Theatrethreesixty’s ‘Love and Information’ is an experimental, elegant and chaotic celebration of its subject matter which leaves a lasting impression.
Caryl Churchill‘s Love and Information first premiered at The Royal Court Theatre in London, days after her seventieth birthday. It’s a non-linear piece with no discernible narrative thread, and it aims to explore human response towards information and technology by means of more than fifty scenes.
Sounds complicated? It’s definitely a brave choice to kick off a Malaysian theatre company’s second year in the business. But then again, Theatrethreesixty has probably done more than any of its peers in 2014, so these guys are riding a high.
Doors opened to the Malaysian premiere of Love and Information on Wednesday night to a group of curious viewers; a healthy mix of the usual theatre staples and members of the public. Artistic director Christopher Ling thanked people for coming, took a quick wefie, and left them with his actors who stood around still like statues.
Perhaps nobody — not even the audience — was as nervous as the man himself, for he was about to unleash something very special upon his hapless theatregoers. His version of Love and Information was done as an immersive theatre performance; viewers are given the freedom to move about during scenes, all of which take place around the room, seemingly at random. At time, characters would even address audience members directly.
Instead of staging one vignette after another as done by James Macdonald for the London premiere, Christopher structured Love and Information into several arcs. Each arc had scenes that run simultaneously around audience members, carried by actors who perform their pieces with one another anywhere on the entire floor.
This also means that the only way to catch everything was to go for multiple viewings and to get your pair of running shoes out. These scenes ranged in magnitude, from big and loud to smaller and more intimate, to purpose. Information, in today’s era, is many things — weapon, medicine, release, catalyst, true love — and it is one hundred percent inescapable.
Many of these scenes amused but invoked a sense of poignancy. A drunk couple speaking German lying on a park bench, while in another spot, an amnesiac refuses to accept the presence of his wife. Elsewhere, a girl is berated for having a relationship with her computer, or for not being able to feel physical pain.
Information however, hurts most when it is withheld. An employer’s inability to fire a subordinate was juxtaposed against a doctor’s inability in passing his patient her sentence. Here, newcomer Andrew Wood and stage actor Sheila Wyatt stand out.
There were also contributions by the ensemble that livened up the entire affair by involving viewers in their celebration. At one point, performers Ivan Chan, Shaun Chen and Darrel Neoh sang in Chinese to a selected audience member while Tika Mu’tamir beatboxed along.
Like the rest of his catalogue, Christopher Ling’s latest is a well-oiled ship. His performers were en pointe, their costumes simple, but elegant. Minimal but stylised, Love and Information has stunning production design which leaves a lasting impression.
The overall experience? Wondrous as it was entertaining. Like being in a movie, viewers are given opportunity to roam and pick their stories. Therefore, some performers naturally attracted bigger audiences than others.
Most notable was actor and musician Hannan Azlan who received rave post-show reviews. Despite performing repeated segments over 80 minutes, she was vivacious and magnetic throughout, becoming a magnet which shone bright in the abandoned office floor where the play took place. This is the sort of energy that converts the masses into theatre-goers.
At the end of the entire shebang, one might feel confused. What was the story behind it all? Was it necessary to catch every scene in order to figure out the play? Was there even a story? But herein lies the thrill of the play: Love and Information is one that rewards viewers who don’t give up in trying to understand.
It’s an exploration; an adventure; a journey through fragments and memories that all bear their own effect and meaning, however small or big.
By taking this Caryl Churchill play and treating each little piece as a component of a kaleidoscope, Christopher Ling and his band of beautiful actors have created something extraordinary not to be missed. His Love and Information is an enriching experience that is bound to ignite something within viewers. At the very least, expect to walk away feeling like you’ve just experienced something rather magical.
Love and Information ran from March 25 to March 29 at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre as part of the ‘we are theatrethreesixty 2015’ season.